Breast Cancer Awareness Is a Matter of Life and Death

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is personally a painful subject because my mother died of metastatic breast cancer at age 68 and missed out on seeing her grandchildren grow up. All women age 40 and older should start with an annual baseline mammogram, especially those women who missed their appointments during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

I recently spoke with Dr. Angela Cabo MD, the chief of women’s breast imaging at St. Francis Hospital on Long Island. She emphasized that early detection is the key.

One in eight people in the United States will get cancer in their lifetimes. The risk factors include being overweight, early menstruation, having dense breasts, having a family history of breast cancer and drinking five or more alcoholic beverages per week.

Symptoms may include a lump (self-exam in the shower or lying flat in bed is important), redness, pain, or inverted nipple. Mammography is the best screening tool. A breast ultrasound is the next step if a cyst is suspected and a no-radiation MRI can give additional details when ordered by your doctor. The monthly self-breast exam has saved many women with early detection.

Fortunately, there are many new treatments from surgery, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy to tackle this disease. There are also companies working on breast cancer vaccines to help prevent and treat breast cancer by mobilizing the immune system to attack the cancer cells.

So please spread the word about breast cancer awareness and encourage the women in your lives to get mammograms and speak to their doctors.

In the Hamptons, we are fortunate to have the Ellen Hermanson Foundation which has made available free mammograms to women who cannot afford to pay for the test, or for those who are uninsured.

One day at a time and the attitude of gratitude must prevail during these challenging times. Keep calm and carry on.

Peter Michalos, MD is an FAAO board-certified ophthalmologist, clinical associate professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a Southampton resident.

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